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Review: You Won't Feel Like a Wallflower at DCPA's WILD PARTY

I think I'm addicted to immersive theatre, especially the way Denver Center's Off-Center has been bringing it.

Their most recent production is a fully realized musical--The Wild Party, a jazzy show set in the Roaring Twenties, where audience members can sip their gin alongside the performers. You're even encouraged to dress up like you're headed to one of Gatsby's shindigs. (Do it.)

But before I delve into details, you should know there are two versions of The Wild Party, both based on the 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March. Off-Center is producing the version with music by Michael John LaChiusa, not Andrew Lippa. LaChiusa's version feels a bit more authentic to its era, bringing a wiser framework to the immersive setup. LaChiusa partners on the book with George C. Wolfe.

The Wild Party tells the story of vaudevillian blonde Queenie (a dynamic Emily Van Fleet) and her eccentric beau Burrs (sharply executed by Drew Horwitz), a clown, who try to distract from their tumultuous relationship by throwing a party, inviting an array of their most raucous friends.

That includes "ambisextrous" playboy, Jackie (Aaron Vega); gruff lesbian Miss Madeleine True (a perfectly demanding Diana Dresser) and her latest lady, Sally (a raw performance by Allison Caw); seemingly affable lovers Eddie Mackrel (Marco Robinson) and Mae (Katie Drinkard), with her 14-year-old (but 16 if you ask) sister from Poughkeepsie, Nadine (Jenna Moll Reyes, who's frequently engaging); the talented D'Amano brothers Phil (Trent Hines, who doubles as the music conductor) and Oscar (Leonard E. Barrett, Jr.); former stage star, Delores (beautifully anchored by Sheryl McCallum); rib-tickling producers Gold (Brett Ambler) and Goldberg (Wayne Kennedy); and Queenie's best frenemy, Kate (Erin Willis, who balances sugar well with her spice), alongside her fetching date, Black (an enchanting Laurence Curry).

To my knowledge, Off-Center is the first to take this show out of its proscenium staging, but they make it feel like this is how it should be done. The setup is at Aurora's Stanley Marketplace in The Hangar, a 10,000-square-foot event space.

Director Amanda Berg Wilson exquisitely transitions the production to the space, where audience members are seated on vintage furniture scattered across an area the features designated zones for a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and balcony. But the first few scenes are played in an entry room with cabaret tables and a stage with a red curtain. Actors then lead the crowds through doors into the main space.

The scenic design is cleverly concocted by Denver Center regular Jason Sherwood (who originally presented the idea of the immersive musical). There are a bunch of details if you look for them, like old photos and playbills. Pay attention to them when you can, especially the handpicked light fixtures. Just like in Off-Center's previous immersive show Sweet and Lucky, you're supposed to interact with your surroundings, so feel free to flip through a playbill or open a cigar box. Explore even deeper during intermission.

Generally, the layout works well with the performance. While some scenes might be directly in front of you, possibly even involving you, others are on the other side of the room, but you can still tell what's going on. (Unless there's a pillar. The pillars blocked a few scenes for me.)

But even better than the setting is the performances. Each actor makes you feel like you're an invited guest, drawing you into the action just enough to keep you immersed. You may not know exactly where the plot is, but that doesn't matter, because Nadine's showing you a juggling act and Jackie just asked you to dance. The executions are so delectably detailed, you might even feel a bit anxious when the action takes a sharp turn.

You've never been to a party--let alone a theatrical experience--like this one. And I can't wait to see what they do next.

The Wild Party, presented by the DCPA's Off-Center, plays The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St. in Aurora. For tickets and information, visit WildPartyDenver.com.

Photos by AdamsVisCom



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